With Drogba and Eto’o as ambassadors, Morocco plays up long-shot 2026 World Cup bid

Morocco believes its fifth bid for the World Cup is 'a candidacy for the whole continent'. (AP)
Updated 23 January 2018
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With Drogba and Eto’o as ambassadors, Morocco plays up long-shot 2026 World Cup bid

CASABLANCA: Morocco is “fully mobilized” for its long-shot bid to host the 2026 World Cup, hoping to be a candidate “for the whole of Africa,” top sports officials said Tuesday.
The kingdom “is not a non-starter — it’s a real candidate,” Moulay Hafid Elalamy said in his first public appearance as chairman of the country’s 2026 bid committee.
“We are going to put in all our energy,” he told a news conference in Casablanca, brushing off criticisms that the campaign had been delayed.
“Our record is and will be irreproachable.”
Morocco’s fifth bid, announced in August, faces fierce competition from a three-nation ticket of the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
Fouzi Lekjaa, head of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF), said he hoped the North African country’s bid would be “a candidacy for the whole continent.”
“Between 1930 to 2030 — 100 years — the African continent has only organized the World Cup once,” Lekjaa said, referring to the 2010 tournament in South Africa, which beat a previous bid by Morocco.
“It should not remain on the margin.”
The committee has enlisted Ivory Coast legend and former Chelsea star Didier Drogba along with Cameroon international striker Samuel Eto’o to promote its bid.

The host will be chosen on Jun. 13, but the way the choice is made marks a change by FIFA, the sport’s world governing body.
The decision used to be made by FIFA’s executive committee, but after suspicions over its selection of Russia and Qatar in December 2010, sparking a scandal that dethroned president Sepp Blatter, the committee was stripped of some powers and renamed the FIFA Council.
The new-look council must rubber-stamp the bids, but the final decision will be taken in a vote of the 211 national federations at a congress in Moscow.
Morocco’s bid committee hope to win support from the 53 members of the Confederation of African Football.
CAF president Ahmad Ahmad has urged the sport’s bodies across the continent to offer “free and massive support” to the kingdom.
The bid committee on Tuesday’s unveiled their leadership team, social media channels and logo: Red leaves on a black and white football surrounding a star that symbolizes “unity and brilliance.”
Responding to a question on human rights, newly added to FIFA’s selection criteria, Elalamy said Morocco had made progress on women’s and family rights.
The kingdom was “one of the safest countries in the world,” he added.
The committee also played up Morocco’s infrastructure, including a high-speed railway, ports, stadiums and hotel capacity.
They did not reveal how much was to be spent on the bid, but said each of the last two bids had cost around $15 million.


Al-Hilal boss Jorge Jesus reveals Omar Abdulrahman will make debut in Super Cup clash in London

Updated 17 August 2018
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Al-Hilal boss Jorge Jesus reveals Omar Abdulrahman will make debut in Super Cup clash in London

  • New boss Jorge Jesus to give start to new star signing after $17 million move from Al-Ain last week.
  • Al-Hilal coach keen to put on a good show in London and start season with silverware against Al-Ittihad.

LONDON: Jorge Jesus confirmed Omar Abdulrahman will make his Al-Hilal debut in the Saudi Super Cup final against Al-Ittihad on Saturday.
The UAE playmaker joined the Saudi Pro League champions last week in a loan deal from Al-Ain that was worth $17 million, a fee that has only been surpassed once in football history. 
The 26-year-old has been training with his new teammates at English football’s HQ at St. George’s Park this week and traveled down to London on Friday with the rest of the team ahead of the showpiece game at Loftus Road.
Abdulrahman has not played since May, when Al-Ain were dumped out of the AFC Champions League by Lekhwiya, and he was not considered for the Arab Club Champions Club on Sunday, but Jesus said the 2016 Asian Player of the Year is line to make his first appearance for his boyhood club this weekend.
“Omar is training with the team for five or six days,” said Jesus. “Intelligent players like Omar learn fast, so that’s why he will be part of the game.”
There are various subplots to the game in west London, not least the fact that Al-Ittihad coach Ramon Diaz comes up against the club that fired him in February. He won the double in the first season in Riyadh and then choreographed Al-Hilal’s run to the final of the AFC Champions League in his second. Now he goes up against Jesus, the Portuguese tactician who replaced him this summer.
“It’s true Diaz could know the players more and this could influence the match, but they are working with my ideas today and I expect the match to be an excellent game,” said Jesus.
Al-Hilal lost the Super Cup the last time it was held in London, losing to Al-Ahli on penalties in a thriller at Fulham’s Craven Cottage ground. Jesus knows this year’s match could provide a launchpad for the season ahead and broaden the appeal of football in the Kingdom. 
“Everybody knows the importance of this match, because we play outside Saudi Arabia,” he said. “It represents the image of our football. We are happy to be present in London and play the Saudi Super Cup here. The eyes of Europe sees London as the center of football, so we need to create a good image of Saudi football.”

Jorge Jesus is looking to get his reign as Al-Hilal coach off to a winning start at QPR's Loftus Road ground on Saturday. 


Jesus will be without the injured Salman Al-Faraj, Abdullah Otayf and Nawaf Al-Abed while national team full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani will undergo a late fitness test. 
“We are missing some players but that should not reduce the importance of some players we have in the squad,” said Jesus. “We have to find our best combination of players to go to the match with.”
Mohammad Al-Shalhoub will captain the side from midfield following the departure of Osama Hawsawi and knows bragging rights are up for grabs on Saturday between Saudi Arabia’s two most successful clubs who have won the top prize in the Kingdom 23 times between them.
“It’s one match, there is no other chance,” he said. “We will do our best to win the cup. We can start the season well if we win this cup. We will fight hard to win, but Ittihad is doing their hardest to win it, too. We are super motivated to show a good level and start with a Saudi Super Cup victory.”
Al-Hilal labored to a 1-0 win over Al-Shabab on Sunday night and know they will need to be much nearer their best against last season’s King’s Cup winners.
“In the beginning of the season, you can have some difficulties,“ Al-Shalhoub said. “Our first home game in the Arab Cup we showed a good level, but we have to me more ready against Ittihad.”